I thought about different ways to title this post, but in the end, since these are books that profoundly affected my walk with Christ, they really are the three most important books I've read (aside from the Bible itself). In some ways, it is a little surprising to come down to only three; after all, there have been long stretches of my life that I've read a book a week--to narrow it down to these three demonstrates (at least to me) their real value and impact.
1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression
It wasn't the first or second time reading Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression that made an impact on me. I think it was the fourth or fifth time, but I remember it well. I was sitting in the archives at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, supposedly doing work but instead reading this book. I had continued to wrestle for over two years over a failure in ministry, where I had given myself to a congregation and they didn't apparently love me back. I had, in turn, concluded that God didn't really love me.
But then I read Lloyd-Jones' sermon on Luke 8, where he said, "Whatever your circumstances at this moment, bring all you know to be true of your relationship to bear upon it. Then you will know full well that he will never allow anything to happen to you that is harmful. 'All things work together for good to them that love God.' Not a hair of your head shall be harmed, he loves you with an everlasting love. I do not suggest that you will be able to understand everything that is happening. You may not have a full explanation of it; but you will know for certain that God is not unconcerned. That is impossible. The One who has done the greatest thing of all for you, must be concerned about you in everything, and though the clouds are thick and you cannot see his face, you know he is there" (p. 145).
As I sat up there in my office, looking at the window at the Josephus Bowl on the campus of Southern Seminary, I started crying--could it be true? Was God really concerned about me back there when my heart was breaking? Does he really love me with an everlasting love? It was the first time I could remember feeling loved by God. It is a memory that I doubt I'll ever forget.
2. Bryan Chapell, Holiness By Grace.
If you think that GA give-aways don't work for people, this is my story. I got this as a giveaway from Covenant Seminary at the 2003 General Assembly in Charlotte. I read it over the summer and was completely blown away. The whole approach to the Christian life with which I was reared centered on my performance--the notion went that we were justified by faith alone but are sanctified by human effort. As a result, my relationship with God was as only as good as my own efforts--I had no sense that his love came first and that he loved me anyways and always.
This book changed all that for me--it was like dynamite. I started teaching it to my Bible studies and developed my own study guide for the book. I so desperately wanted my church people to know that the law could not save--not at the beginning of faith nor in the middle nor at the end. It is "all of grace" from beginning to end.
3. John Piper, When I Don't Desire God.
Okay, now to explain this, I need to go back a little bit. Remember that I've admitted that I'm the kid who didn't see "Top Gun" or "Titnatic" when they came out; there is a bit of contrarian-ness that keeps me from following the crowd. Sometimes that is a good thing; but sometimes not so good.
Not so good, when it kept me from reading John Piper. I ran into so many guys, especially when I worked at Southern Seminary, who were such "devotees" that I felt like they missed the point--if Piper was right, these guys should be boasting and satisfied in Christ, not in Piper. However, the testimony of a friend who talked about how God had used Piper's books and sermons in his life convinced me to read something. Even more, it was my friend's joy in walking with Christ--that is what got my attention. Because all too often my walk with the Lord has been a struggle (as I've noted before)--and yet, here was a brother who delighted in God.
And so, I saw this book in the bookstore and I thought, "Yeah, that is too often how I've been--I've not desired God." God used this book to create in my heart such a thirst and desire for walking and delighting in himself; it has led to waking up earlier than I've ever done before (as my students who had me at 8am can relate, I'm not a morning person) so that I can spend time in his Word and prayer, delighting in his presence. I've been memorizing scripture (I've been using the Fighter Verse packet that Desiring God Ministries sells). As my wife as said, "Your sanctification is good for me." Not only good for her, but good for me as well--for the first time that I can recall, I've been genuinely satisfied in who God is for me.